Golden Skate

Firus attributes success to balance

Liam Firus

Canada’s Liam Firus performs his Short Program at the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

Canadian Liam Firus has been turning heads with his skating ever since he decided to lace up figure skates back in 2002. Recently, however, his results are beginning to live up to the potential that many have recognized throughout his young career. The past eighteen months have been a whirlwind for the high school graduate, and it seems as if his star may only be starting to shine. Like many boys who figure skate, Firus, 18, began his journey on blades as a hockey player. Because he loved skating so much, his mother enrolled him in CanSkate classes when he was nine years old. “I loved it, and I spent most of my time jumping and skating fast,” Firus recalled. “It just progressed further from there. I met my coach, Lorna Bauer, in those lessons, and I have skated with her ever since.” Firus, a native of North Vancouver, B.C., trains with Bauer (sister to former Canadian champion Susan Humphreys) at two locations as part of the Vancouver Skating Club. In the fall and winter, the 2010 Canadian junior men’s champion trains at the Pacific National Exhibition Agrodome in Vancouver, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Coliseum, the location of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The rest of the year, Firus trains at the Canlan Ice Sports Arena in Burnaby, B.C. “Both of these rinks are ten minutes from where I live and only five minutes from the university I attend, so it’s very convenient,” Firus said. “I’m very fortunate that I can train and go to school and still live at home with my family.” Firus trains about two and a half hours on ice and one hour off ice each day, five days a week. In addition to training with Bauer, he also works with a long list of specialists who work together to help him become a well-rounded skater. “(Bauer) runs the show and is my head coach. She is primarily responsible for my jumps and program training,” he explained. “I also train with Rod Macky who reinforces the training that I do with (Bauer). One or two days a week I train at Coquitlam Skating Club alongside Ronald Lam and the Finnish National champion Bella Paap, with Bruno Del Maestro (1984 Italian Olympic team member). For the past four years, I have been traveling to Calgary to train with Vaughn Chipeur’s former coach Scott Davis. My choreographer for the past five years has been Mark Pillay, who in addition to creating my programs, has recently began helping me with spins and other elements so that I can get the highest levels.” Firus is among the emerging generation of skaters who have skated almost exclusively under the ‘new’ International Judging System, and has grown up knowing that being an all-around skater is what brings home the hardware. “I have always loved to skate and create those nice smooth edges,” Firus said of his trademark quiet blades. “I have been told I had natural good run on the blade ever since I started skating. I make sure there is time spent every day on my basic stroking and extension. When working on the ice I always am working to improve the program component side of my skating, because in this judging system now, it makes up a large chunk of your overall score.” This past season, Firus drew comparisons to World Champion Patrick Chan, not just for his look on the ice, but also for his edge work and ability to interpret music. “Being compared to Patrick Chan is a very big compliment and it always puts a smile on my face,” he admitted. “I admire his skating very much and so do many others, so when people say that I remind them of him, I am flattered.” Firus made his international debut back in 2007 at the 10th Merano Cup in Merano, Italy, where he competed and won the gold medal in the novice men’s division. It wasn’t until the fall of 2009, however, until he made his first appearance in a Junior Grand Prix event. “My first year on the circuit was all about gaining experience in learning how to approach international competitions as a competitor,” Firus said. “I learned a lot about the depth of skating in junior men around the world, and this helped my coach and me to set goals so that I could improve the next season.” Later that season, Firus won the 2010 Junior Men’s title at the Canadian Championships in London, Ont. He finished in 10th place the season before. Though he was hoping to earn an invitation, Firus was not named to the team that competed at the 2010 Junior World Championships. Winning the junior title did, however, present him with the opportunity to represent his country for a second season on the Junior Grand Prix later that year. Firus finished in fifth place at the Brasov Cup in Romania to open his international campaign last season, and then won the bronze medal at the John Curry Memorial in Sheffield, England, just a few weeks later. “I was very happy with my short program in Sheffield,” he said. “It was by far the best short program for me this season. The long was good, but not great. I made a few mistakes. Overall, I was still very happy with my end result.” Firus qualified for his first Canadian championships as a senior man at the Skate Canada Challenge in Mississauga, Ont., in December. The following month, in his home province of British Columbia, Firus surprised many with an impressive sixth place finish at the national championships in Victoria. “Going into nationals I had no focus on placement,” he admitted. “I was strictly focusing on having a good skate and being selected for the junior world team. After my short I was happy with my skate and with my placement. I tried not to get side tracked by focusing on scoring high and trying move up spots. Instead I just wanted that good clean long skate. I skated a great long and fortunately received high marks to put me in sixth place, which was not expected. It was a nationals I will never forget, that’s for sure.” This time, Firus was selected to represent Canada at the Junior World Championships, and he headed to Gangneung, South Korea, for the competition in March. “I skated well in qualification with room for improvement,” Firus said of his initial performance at Junior Worlds. “I had a rough time in the short program—I fell on my triple Lutz, which was my combination jump, and then stepped out of my loop.” Firus finished in 24th place in the short program—just .08 points above the cutoff to qualify for the free skate. Disappointed, he tried to recover in time for the free skate. “I wasn’t the happiest after that skate but I had to let go and just focus on skating a solid long for myself,” he said. “My long program started out very well, maybe the best start to my long this year. At the halfway mark, though, it just went a little downhill. Unfortunately I didn’t skate as well as I was hoping for again, but I learned a lot from the experience. No skater is always perfect, and there will always be days where things just aren’t working.” Firus ended up finishing in 20th place overall. With a full season of international competition under his belt, Firus is focused on taking all that he has learned from his experiences and putting it to work as he approaches the new season. For now, he is focused on upping the technical ante in his skating in order to become a serious medal contender in his final season of junior international eligibility. “Primarily I have been working on my triple Axel, but I have not forgotten my basic skating skills and program components,” Firus said of his training plan. “I think the triple Axel is a primary factor in moving up in the ISU standings this year, and it also never hurts to improve the program component side of skating. I am going to stay on the junior circuit one more year to try to gain as many ISU points as I can. The locations of the events this season are great, and I am looking forward to traveling to wherever I get assigned.” Firus has already prepared a new short program that is once again choreographed by Pillay, and will keep his Lawrence of Arabia/War Movie music freeskate from last season. “There have just been some changes in choreography and patterns,” he said of the recycled long program. Firus hopes to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final for the first time, and to qualify for the Canadian National team by finishing in the top five at the national championships. He is currently preparing for his season debut. “I will most likely be at the (Figure Skating Boutique Summer Skate) held in Thornhill, Ontario, the first week of August,” Firus explained. “I will compete as a senior man.” Firus is a part time student at Capilano University in his hometown of North Vancouver where he just completed his first year of classes. Because of the demands of his skating career, Firus only takes two or three classes each term, and hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. “After skating, I want to do something in the business world,” he revealed. “I am not sure what that will involve yet, but I’m thinking about running a business or owning a couple of franchises.” When he is not skating, Firus likes to surround himself with friends with whom he attended high school, and is looking forward to being reunited with them as universities begin to let out for the summer. Keeping a work-life balance is important to Firus, and it is the social aspect of his life that helps keep him motivated to train. “For me, I need to have that time away from skating to set my brain somewhere else,” he admitted. “Skating is a big part of my life, and when I am at the rink it is business. I believe a good balance between social life and skating is very important, and I need that time just to be a normal teenager.” Firus also likes to take advantage of his natural surroundings in his native British Columbia. “I have lived in North Vancouver my whole life and I love it,” he said proudly. “Last year I moved to a house just down the street, and before then, I had lived in my old house my whole life. It is amazing here. We are surrounded by nature while still being close to a city. There is so much to do—countless trails to hike and bike, mountains, the ocean and beaches, and many rivers to swim in. It doesn’t get too hot to the point where you can’t go outside and not to cold or snowy in the winter to the point where you can’t go outside either. I love rain, and it rains a tremendous amount here.” Firus has a close relationship with his family, and is thankful that he has been able to chase his dreams while still living at home. He has an older sister who is not involved in skating, while his younger brother, Shane, is an ice dancer who finished in fourth place on the novice level with Caelen Dalmer at the 2011 Canadian Junior Championships. “My family is very supportive with my skating and will always be there for me when I need them,” he said.